By Richard Erwin, General Manager, Roche Products Ltd.
Although our health is highly personal to us, the treatment and care we receive is often not. Historically medicines and the care we receive have been designed based on evidence from large populations, and whilst our doctors do their best to tailor this to the needs of individuals, generally we still have a broad-spectrum approach to treatment.
But this is changing, and over the next decade and beyond, healthcare will be revolutionised by technological advancements. We will be capable of detecting future ill health before there are symptoms, helping more people to take preventative action. Treatments will be designed around the needs of specific individuals, tailored to the unique genetic characteristics of the patient. Decoding a person’s genome will be as standard as taking their blood pressure.
Advances in science and technology have the potential to transform our NHS services and outcomes in the coming years, fundamentally changing the way we interact with healthcare professionals, how data is used to inform decisions about our health, and how we understand, prevent, diagnose, treat and manage ill health.
Not only that, widespread adoption of digital technology will empower a generation of patients to take control of their health, allowing for real time monitoring of disease progression, and changing how and when people interact with the NHS.
This is a crucial time for the future of our much loved and world-renowned NHS which, like other healthcare systems across the world, is facing the dual challenge of increasing patient demand and an ageing population. In July last year, the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, made technology one of his three early priorities for the NHS under his leadership. And just recently, Theresa May unveiled the “historic” Long-Term Plan for the future of the NHS, which has identified that innovation, transformation and collaboration are fundamental to improving and sustaining patient care.
One of the most eye-catching measures outlined was that the NHS will be the first national health care system to offer whole genome sequencing as part of routine care, with the new NHS Genomic Medicine Service sequencing 500,000 whole genomes by 2023/24.
We at Roche also recently announced new investments in UK life sciences, a key part of being an innovative genomic technology partnership with The Christie in Manchester, Europe’s leading cancer centre. This partnership is an extremely exciting development, merging cutting-edge genomic technology with data to accelerate the next generation of digital clinical trials for rare cancers. It will use Roche’s Foundation Medicine genomic technology and expertise in analysing data. The three-year collaboration provides initial funding that should help make the UK a leading global hub for clinical trials involving less common cancers.
“Advances in science and technology have the potential to transform our NHS services and outcomes in the coming years, fundamentally changing the way we interact with healthcare professionals, how data is used to inform decisions about our health, and how we understand, prevent, diagnose, treat and manage ill health.”
Beyond this, researchers have also said that using artificial intelligence to diagnose when someone has had a stroke – another planned development in the Long-Term Plan – will improve their treatment and survival. At the same time, digital GP consultations, on smartphones or tablets, will be made available to everyone who wants them as officials try to slash long waits for appointments.
But this is just where it starts. The critical next step is for these plans to be converted into action and necessary change will not happen on its own. Realising these visions will not be possible without an ambitious and sustained commitment from government, the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry, and patients themselves, to work in partnership at every stage.
It will require new flexibilities across the system and a transparent and honest conversation with both the public and the NHS itself. We recently published a piece of research – our NHS at 100 report – to look into the nation’s expectations for the future of the NHS.
Technological potential is a prominent theme throughout, and the public’s aspiration first and foremost, is that digital solutions will be harnessed by the NHS in order to deliver a speedier and more connected service.
There is a desire for digital solutions that, in line with the principles of the NHS constitution, allow more face-to-face interaction between clinicians and their patients. For many, the hope is for scientific advancement that will enable the NHS to provide patient personalised medicines through the use of genomic testing and profiling.
Some digital solutions such as apps, chatbots and online consultations are expected – particularly amongst the younger generations. Our report also revealed that there is almost a universal willingness to share health data with the NHS to support the development and implementation of these innovative technologies and medicines.
Roche is committed to working with the NHS and other partners to realise this vision, as well as striving to meet public expectations and we are passionate that by starting these conversations, we can help support bringing about change that delivers the best outcomes for patients.